AI: The Somnium Files Review
The tale of mystery, love , and porno mag obsession
Visual novels never used to be my thing. My views on digital books that you pressed buttons in sometimes were warped by the rumors spread by others. I heard countless stories on how all visual novels were “smut” or “poorly written fanfiction”. Caught up in the whirlwind of internet discourse, I was afraid to give them a chance until a few friends told me about a game called Danganronpa. The doubt creeped in. What if it was one of those smutty fanfictions about an animatronic bear? Those have been all the rage ever since Five Nights at Freddy’s. Eventually the nagging got to me, and I gave it the ol’ college try. Danganronpa managed to enthrall me, but something was missing. I wanted something a bit more serious, which led me to the series that ended up being one of my all time favorites.
A little series called The Nonary Games. Now, the creator is back with his new(ish) game, AI: The Somnium Files.
AI: The Somnium Files is the latest murder mystery by Spike Chunsoft. Written and directed by Kotaro Uchikoshi, The Somnium Files puts you in the stylishly purple shoes of police detective Kaname Date as he tries to figure out the return of a famous case. As intuitive as he is horny, Date jumps from investigation to investigation with his partner Aiba. Aiba is no ordinary beat cop; she is an advanced AI contained within a false eyeball linked directly to Date’s brain. With the ability to act as everything from smartphone to anti-lust police-bot, Aiba grants Date the ability to solve cases that an ordinary detective would struggle to even keep straight. Her intelligence, charisma, and obsession with bugs is the premiere example of The Somnium File’s main strengths: it’s character writing, and the twists and turns of it’s mind-bending plot.
Kotaro is a master of sci-fi murder plots, and The Somnium Files is no exception to his writing rule. While it’s fair to say that Somnium is much more grounded than his other works, it still dips into the classic hour long scientific theory and secret society explanation-a-palooza. The Somnium Files instead chooses to put the three hour Prisoner’s Dilemma hypotheticals in the background in exchange for more grounded moments of character development. By the end of my twenty five hour journey, I felt more attached to the characters I actively despised than I did all of the characters in the Nonary Games combined. Even the characters that made my blood boil had moments that made me genuinely root for them and understand their plights. They did manage to promptly crush that glimmer of hope, but giving the irredeemable time to shine is just one of the many reasons why The Somnium Files’ writing is above and beyond.
The “actual” gameplay of the visual novel is the book-game’s only pain point. Gameplay scenarios are split into two distinct categories: Somniums and QTE action sequences. Somniums are the more interesting of the two; they involve Date hooking into the subconscious dreams of people using a contraption called the Psync Machine. Within these mindbenders, Date’s A-Eye partner takes human form, and must solve puzzles within a six minute time limit to find out what is hidden behind the mental locks of the subject’s unconscious mind. The somnium environments are varied and twisted enough to keep you wanting to dive deeper into the hidden depths of your suspect’s mind.
Where The Somnium Files suffers is its quick time action events. While Date is awake, he runs into a plethora of situations that can only be solved with a little violent fast thinking and detective intuition. The problem with these scenarios is the lack of real danger, both from a story and gameplay perspective. Each set piece is accompanied by situations that are so unbelievable that it was nearly impossible to suspend my disbelief. Porno mags causing trained mercenary killers to lose their skills to the allure of pixelated boobs made my brain itch in a way that did not feel pleasant. Combine weird comic relief with the easiest QTEs of all time and you have the one bad note in the glorious song of this murder mystery.
Mysteries are hard to write, doubly so when they have murderous intent, but Kotaro manages to weave a tall tale that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Twists, obvious and downright insane alike, will astound your mind as you get addicted to the dopamine hit of seeing more of your questions answered. While The Somnium Files does not live up to the production quality and insanity levels of Virtue’s Last Reward, it manages to be the closest contender. The last few hours of Somnium have some of the best revelations that I’ve seen in any mystery, in any medium, and have kept me contemplating the game for weeks after I’ve finished. It was an absolute blast to play through on my stream, and I can’t wait to dive into even more of Kotaro’s games. Date’s deep dives into the mind will stay in your subconscious for a long time, and no amount of mental lock breaks will take away the beauty of this absurdly good mystery.